It’s the time of year in Michigan where kids are getting restless, daylight is less and less everyday, and many parents are stressed as we prepare for upcoming school breaks and a busy holiday season for some of us.
I don’t know about you, but the ease of summer and fall outdoor time changes come winter. Perhaps it’s the cold or maybe it’s the fleeting hours of daylight, but it somehow feels more challenging to commit to getting outside with the kids. I know that my family benefits from the opportunity to spend time outside daily. We all feel happier, less stuck in the house, and share more joy. I’ve had to work to find new ways to incorporate outdoor time with two young children, busy schedules, and darkness creeping in early. One of my favorite traditions we have this year is increasing our after dark walks around our neighborhood. Here are a few activities that we’ve tried that can help make those late evening family walks even more special.
This is an easy one. Grab each member of your family a flashlight and head out for an after dark walk. You can incorporate talking about safety and what to do so that cars can see you in the dark, how to recognize landmarks in the dark, looking for address and street signs, etc. When you get to your halfway point, let your children lead and see if they can use their flashlights and memory to find the way home without adult instruction.
Holiday Decoration Scavenger Hunt
Before you bundle up to head outside, make a list of items to spot or download this one here to use as the prompt for the hunt. For older children, have them write and draft their own list as they brainstorm ideas for the list. If you parent younger elementary age children, have them read the list before going so they know what they are looking for. Preschool age children will benefit if you create your list with pictures and print. This can simply be hand drawn or created using pictures from the internet or canva. And of course, when doing this with toddlers, simplify your list with things that are abundant, easy to spot, and limit the items on the list. If you head out on this walk, you’ve just practiced cognitive, language, and literacy skills.
Night Sky Walk
During the daytime, gather an empty toilet paper roll or a paper towel tube for each child to make a “telescope”. Offer simple art supplies such as washi tape, markers, stickers, or crayons and encourage them to decorate their telescope for a special adventure that night. You can prepare a bit for the walk by looking up the map of the night sky around your home here. This activity will incorporate science and the arts as you get some exercise.
Wagon Pajama Parade
This is great for the little ones who are getting sleepy and tired but need a little bit more fresh air. Before leaving the house, bundle everyone up in their jammies and fill your wagon or stroller full of blankies. Add hats and mittens onto the outfit and away you go. We take full advantage of this one when we are pulling our hair out, having to constantly re-direct, and our kiddos need some calming down before hitting the pillow at bedtime.
Spread some local cheer in your neighborhood by drawing festive sidewalk greetings for all to see. It will be a pleasant surprise for morning walkers. Save this for the chilly, but dry days. Drawing pictures, messages of kindness, or just even encouraging them to write thank you in front of the houses whose decorations they enjoyed the most! You can encourage social emotional learning by talking about the impact of kind gestures on their own brains and bringing joy to neighbors. Here is an article to reference for some quick tips on how being kind does the body good.
Have fun, stay active, and try to reap the benefits of outdoor winter time- one fun family night walk at a time.